“David, come here!” My mother said. “David!” She was a young mother of two boys who was more than used to having to yell to get their attention. But something was a little different about me.
I was in a swimming pool with a friend and never paid attention to her. One of her friends suspected that something was wrong. While my back was still turned to her, she said something to me in a softer voice; something to which I was sure to have responded.
I never did. To this day, I don’t know what it was she said because I never even heard it. “Pixie,” my mom’s friend said, “Get that boy’s hearing tested.” My mother didn’t really see how I could have bad hearing. After all, I usually responded to her when she called. And even more importantly, I would always come running when she played on her piano. Instead of sitting next to her or by the door, I would always sit underneath the piano. She thought I was just being a little different.
Finally, she agreed to have my hearing tested. I was escorted into a tiny room that looked like it was a space capsule on Star Trek. It was empty except for a chair and a set of headphones. My imagination immediately kicked in. I’m going to be an astronaut! Alas, my fantasy was interrupted by the soft voice of the audiologist. It was the first of many times that I would hear, “now listen for the tone…” As it turned out, my left ear is deaf as a stump, and my right ear has a mere twenty-eight percent of normal hearing. The test results indicated that I needed a hearing aid.
I remember the first time I wore that hearing aid. It was a rainy day in the early seventies. It was a time of pure wonder and discovery that stirred my imagination. I turned my head rapidly back and forth as I tried to see where each new sound was coming from. But there was a sound that I couldn’t quite place. It came from everywhere. “What’s that sound, Mommy?”
“What sound, dear?”
I struggled for the words to describe this incredible new sound that filled my ear through the wonders of this tiny plug attached by a cord to a cigarette-pack-shaped device on my chest. I scrunched my nose and thought some more. “Dibble-dibble-dop-dop,” I finally said.
“Oh, honey, that’s the rain.” Her smile was pure delight. As we sat on the front porch of our Memphis house, she knew that my world had just gotten much larger. That day was filled with discovery after discovery. I heard the birds chirping for the first time, and the sound of the wind. I could hear the cars as they drove by. I could even hear the family dog as she panted for food at the dinner table.
I finally got it. As content as I was in my world of silence that would only be disturbed by the harmonic melody from my mom’s baby grand piano as she played, that world had just been expanded into a spectrum of sound that filled my tiny little head.
A little more recently, I was told of a situation which is remarkably similar in many ways. It happened in a 6th period class at a local high school which was being taught by a substitute teacher. One student yelled across the room to another, “You’re so gay!”
The teacher said, “First of all, there’s not a thing wrong with being gay, so that wasn’t an insult. I don’t know what your point is.” What ensued after that was a lengthy discussion of sexual orientation and how some people are just different. Naturally, there were several teens who voiced their outright opposition to such ideas, but many were silent, and took it all in.
This was a woman who could not sit idly by as common bigotry was hurled in a classroom. She couldn’t just let them belittle each other using a word that in reality is no insult at all. It’s people like her that are willing to stand for what is right, no matter how unpopular it might be. I only regret that I did not learn her name.
I suspect that it was to some of those high school teenagers as it was for me that rainy morning more than 30 years ago. “What’s that sound?” That, my friends, is the sound of an opening mind. And nothing could be more beautiful.
David W. Shelton